- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Jody Wills, the Shelby County woman who admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer, entered Shelby Circuit Court on Tuesday morning to plead her case for why the court should not revoke her probation for failing to honor her restitution schedule.
She departed in handcuffs to begin her 10-year sentence for embezzling.
After a 2-hour hearing that was conducted much like a trial, with Wills’ attorney, William Stewart of Shelbyville, and Shelby County Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell calling several witnesses each and then giving closing arguments, Judge Charles Hickman agreed with Donnell’s request that Wills serve out the sentence she had been given for stealing $720,000 from attorney Mark Dean’s client escrow accounts.
Hickman had issued a warrant for Wills’ arrest on Dec. 19 when she did not show up for court when Donnell made a motion for the court to revoke her probation for not making restitution payments of approximately $600 per week.
Wills told the court she was out of town on a family vacation and that her parole officer knew where she was.
Wills, 36, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to 30 counts against her – with nine others thrown out – had accepted a 10-year sentence with no probation, but after she begged for leniency, Senior Judge Steve Mershon stunned the courtroom by ordering Wills to serve only 9 months in county jail with work release and 5 years probation, explaining that he made that decision so she would be able to make restitution payments to Dean, for whom she had served several years as office manager.
That arrangement called for her to pay Dean $600 a week, but she was short $1,000 each month of 2011, Donnell said.
Stewart told the court that Wills, who makes $12.60 per hour at an unspecified job, gives her entire paycheck for restitution.
During her questioning, Donnell admonished Wills for not taking a second job to make up the remainder, but Wills replied that no one would hire her with a felony on her record.
Donnell asked Wills, “Did you hear Mershon say you would have to go to prison if you didn’t pay back six-hundred dollars a week?”
“Yes,” Wills replied.
“She has not made any effort to find other employment,” Donnell told the court. “This is a situation she created. She has never paid back the full amount.”
Stewart told Hickman he thought the court should take another look at Wills’ situation.
“At this point, that is all she can pay,” he said, asking the court to let her remain on probation and keep that schedule.
He told the court that Wills’ husband, Daniel Wills, has two jobs, at the Taylorsville Police Department and at Southern States, and because it’s all he can do to support his family so his wife can use her entire paycheck for restitution, he is not able to help her with additional payments.
Dean testified that he has received a total of $16,642 from Wills, but that total should have been $27,942. He said he needs the $600 per week just to pay the interest on a loan because of the money Wills stole from his escrow account, and he said he has to make that payment whether Wills gives it to him or not.
Before pronouncing sentence on Wills, Hickman pointed that out to Wills.
“The only victim here is Mr. Dean,” he said. “That’s because he stepped up to the plate and made his clients whole.”
What Hickman meant is that if Dean had not taken out on a loan to cover the shortage, many of his clients’ escrow accounts would have suffered.
“Embezzlement is one of the most serious breaches of trust because it is a selfish act that takes a lot of sophisticated planning,” Hickman said. “Numerous clients’ funds were stolen by the defendant, and because Mr. Dean took out a note and made them whole, that leaves him the sole victim.”
Hickman told Wills that the purpose of making restitution is to make sure the money gets back to its rightful owner.
“Therefore, I sustain the commonwealth’s motion to revoke probation; the defendant is to be remanded into custody to serve out her sentence,” Hickman said.
No family members came forth to give Wills a last hug before heading off to prison, but Stewart did pat her on the shoulder as she was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
It was not immediately known if Wills would be returning to the Shelby County Detention Center, where she previously had served, or be booked immediately into a state penal facility.